Closing arguments set for today in Loesch murder trial

Closing arguments will begin today in the trial of Jamaal Freeman, accused of killing Kingfield resident and father of four Mark Loesch in September 2007 in south Minneapolis.

Hennepin County District Court Judge Mark Wernick closed the trial to the public May 19 during testimony of the defense’s last witness, who feared attacks from inmates upon his return to a federal prison out of state.

Whether to close the trial, now in its eighth day, was a subject of debate for several hours. The debate involved an attorney for the Star Tribune, who pushed for an open meeting and told the judge the paper couldn’t promise not using the witness’ name if it somehow surfaced in trial or out of court.

It did, shortly after that statement.

Wernick and defense attorney Emmett Donnelly both mistakenly referred to the witness by name prior to dismissing the public, but Wernick later asked that it not be printed. The testimony was important for the defense, the judge said, and the only other witness that could offer the same information opted today to plead the Fifth Amendment.  

“This testimony may very well determine the outcome of this case,” Wernick said.

Loesch was killed after leaving home on his bike around 10:30 p.m. Sept. 12, after eating dinner with his family, drinking some wine with his wife and watching TV. His beaten body was found lying next to his bike the next morning at 3732 Elliot Ave. S., a mile and a half from his house.  

Freeman is accused of killing Loesch with a baseball bat. Defense lawyers blame co-defendant Donald Jackson, who pleaded guilty a year ago to aggravated robbery for his role and testified against Freeman in this case.

Jackson said during his testimony that he was selling pot near Cup Foods at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue when Loesch approached him to buy $40 worth of crack. Not having any, Jackson sent the cyclist on his way and later told Freeman, who he had earlier invited to go out that night, about the encounter, according to testimony.

Loesch soon returned to the area and that’s when Freeman hatched a plan to rob him, Jackson said. After being asked three times to help with the robbery, Jackson said he agreed.

Freeman led Loesch into the nearby neighborhood, to the front yard of a then 12-year-old boy whom both Jackson and Freeman knew, according to Jackson’s testimony. There, Jackson said he watched from behind a bush as Freeman beat the cyclist with a red bat and robbed him.

Defense attorneys have argued that Jackson was the sole killer and he used a T-ball bat kept in his uncle’s car in the neighborhood.  They have also criticized the credibility of multiple witnesses including police informant David Tyus, who testified that Freeman confessed to the crime.

Tyus, now in prison, also said he was once in the Bloods, a gang Jackson said he “runs with.” The defense has tried to make the case that gang affiliates are trying to pin the murder on Freeman.

The murder of Loesch, which initially appeared to be a random crime, shocked his community. Controversy over whether he was out to buy drugs lead to the transfer of a Minneapolis police investigator, who contradicted that information after his boss made it public.

Loesch’s widow, Samantha Loesch, said at trial that her husband successfully completed rehabilitation for drug use in 2001. He relapsed a couple times afterward, but was doing well since the birth of their youngest daughter four years ago, she said.

The medical examiner found no traces of any illegal substances in Loesch’s system, though his blood-alcohol level was slightly higher than the legal driving limit. The cause of death was blunt-force injuries to the head.

Closing arguments in the case are set to begin at 9:15 a.m.